Khalil Kamisa’s life was full of great adventures. She rode camels in Jordan, traveled in Kenya, and visited a medieval castle in Transylvania. She worked in the Foreign Service and raised her daughter Natalie across the world on her own.
After retiring to Tampa, she volunteered with several organizations, including the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters.
Cammisa also has multiple myeloma and has lived for 17 years. She was in and out of treatment and in remission.
“It would have been easy for her to feel resentful or angry or regretful, but she didn’t,” said friend Rachel Cintron. “She really talks about how grateful she is every chance she gets.”
Throughout her life and until her death, Camisa maintained a curiosity about the world.
She died of cancer on October 4 at the age of 66.
With, not for
Kamisa’s first international trip was to Ireland with her grandmother in middle school. Camisa grew up in Washington, D.C., and lived in international dormitories while in graduate school. There she met her husband, who was from Greece.
Kamisa began her career as a social worker, but after her divorce, she worked in Poland and later joined the foreign service, working for the United States Agency for International Development. She and her daughter Natalie live in Georgia, Romania, Kenya, Bangladesh, Yemen and Jordan.
Cintron, who also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, first met Kamisa at a dog park in Nairobi. The two eventually became friends, and when Cintron’s daughter was born and her husband was overseas, Kamisa spent the labor and postpartum period there, visiting new mothers and babies.
“She would pick up my newborn and put her on her lap,” Cintron recalled. Camisa can sing and talk. “It was very enlightening for me as a new mom. To see how she spoke to her, not to her, not to her.”
This is also how Camisa works – with others, not for others.
Cintron said Camisa adapted to a local voice that many ignored. Kamisa’s job is to use this approach to help bring Sesame Street to Bangladesh.
She is passionate about children, education, the environment, and curious about the world itself.
“She had this thirst for knowledge and wanted to know everything,” Natalie Kamisa said.
This extends to cancer as well. For the last 17 years of her life, Kamisa participated in medical trials and studied the changes in her body. She also spoke openly about her death with the people in her life.
But even in her final days, her focus remained on life.
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Walter Smith met Camisa when she began volunteering at the Sierra Club. It didn’t take long for us to develop a friendship through long phone calls, a shared love of travel, and an appreciation for laughter.
Smith said Kamisa was elegant and diplomatic. She is also real.
“She can get along with the best of them,” he said. “She could talk to anyone.”
This includes the charisma with which she captivates her audience when she speaks. Smith named the Sierra Club’s environmental justice think tank after his friend. Both loved jazz, and towards the end of her life they got together to perform in St. Petersburg.
When he arrived, Cammis pulled a chair over and patted him to sit down.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I feel…” she paused, “so good.”
After the performance, everyone started to leave.
“She stood up and walked down the stairs instead of going to the elevator,” Smith said.
His friends looked at him, waved and blew kisses.
“It shows how strong she is.”
This traveler and devoted volunteer spent her life marveling at the world and seeking knowledge and connection, providing her final service after her death. Cintron said she donated her body to science to once again “do something for the greater good.”
Poynter News researcher Karin Baird contributed to this report.
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